Doctors are writing more and more time in nature to promote mental and physical health

Jun. 22 – By combining the Greek prefix -bíos (“life”) with the suffix -philia (“friendship and affinity”), the German physiologist Erich Fromm first coined the term biophilia in 1973: “the passionate love for life and of all that lives. “

The term is more often adopted to mean, “the innate human instinct to connect with nature.”

“There’s a whole field of study called Biophilia,” said Brent Bauer, a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “That means we are connected to nature and those studies have actually proven that time in nature can improve anxiety, blood pressure and concentration in children who have attention problems.”

There has been a growing trend of doctors prescribing time in nature, as “park prescriptions” to their patients to improve mental and physical health.

“I’m a big believer,” Bauer said. “I prescribe nature to my patients quite often.”

ParkRx launched a program in 2013 when the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Parks Association and National Park Service met with a group of health care practitioners to discuss recent findings that nature prescriptions improve mental and physical health.

This group ended up creating resources to support an emerging movement of park prescription practitioners. Since its inception, the number of park prescription programs has increased nationwide.

ParkRx conducted a 2020 census of 37 of these programs nationwide and found that 24% of park prescriptions are issued with a specific health goal in mind, while the other 78% are used to promote overall well-being. The specific health goals are usually managing anxiety and depression rather than lower stress levels.

According to Bauer, written prescriptions maintain accountability and pressure patients more effectively to go outside than an oral recommendation of their health care practice would.

“This actually takes it to another level,” Bauer said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come back and say, ‘That’s what brought me out again.'”

To test whether it is the actual green space that brings mental and physical health benefits or rather than just exercise benefits, scientifically conducted studies to see if someone who walks through an urban environment has the same health improvements looks like someone who walks through nature.

The 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that participants who went for walks in nature saw lower levels of rumination, as negative thoughts about themselves, and had reduced brain activity in the area of ​​’ the brain linked to mental illness as those who roamed in an urban environment.

The researchers believe this suggests that access to nature is “essential for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”

According to Bauer, there was another study done on the attention of children. There were three groups each taking a 90-minute walk: one through nature, another through downtown and the last through downtown.

“It turned out that in the city with the inner city, the attention of the children was much shorter. When they came into nature, the attention got better.” Bauer said. “Nature always wins.”

For people who live in urban areas and may not have easy access to hiking trails or parks, there are a few things people can do to simulate being in nature that bring similar benefits.

According to Bauer, playing videos or audio recordings of nature sounds can bring similar benefits to outdoor living.

“We did a study in Mayo a long time ago with natural sounds after surgery, so we had people who would be in the hospital for three, four days. Some of them just had a quiet relaxation period. Some listened to nature sounds,” Bauer said. “Then we saw who did better in terms of pain management and anxiety, and those who actually heard the recorded live nature sounds did statistically significantly better than those who had the exact same period just to be quiet.”

While Bauer said this does not provide the full benefits of being outside, it is a way to have some health improvements when it is not possible to get outside.

Other ways to simulate being in nature are to have natural elements in your workspace, such as a photo of a waterfall or a wooden desk.

“You’ll have a little more productivity. You’ll have some better mental health outcomes,” Bauer said. “I think there are a lot of ways to get this natural benefit.”

The reason why being out in nature is so effective in bringing about good physical and mental health results in the United States is because many of the health problems seen in its population are related to lifestyle and not enough exercise or get time outdoors.

According to Bauer, part of the overall health promotion comes from eating a better diet, getting more exercise and getting a higher quality of sleep. Bauer said he thinks people should add enough time to get outdoors as part of their overall wellness routines.

“(Researchers) found that if you can get about 120 total minutes a week in nature, that seems to be about the sweet spot,” Bauer said. “Of course more could be better, but if you say ‘What would be the thing to shoot for?’ I try to get my patients outdoors for at least two hours a week. “


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